Three years ago, it seemed like a dark dream full of uneasy movement. Arabs in downtown Salt Lake City marched, thrust arms into the air and screamed for the death of someone - the name wasn't quite clear.
Were they not civilized? This was Utah, not Tehran or Beirut. How could they actually demand that we kill someone? Were they that brutal? A robed Arab woman with a baby held up an enlarged photo of another robed woman clenching a baby - but in death. That mother and child had been killed in mid-stride by chemical arms in Iraq. The photo showed flies swarming on the bloated bodies.I cringed and looked away. I asked the name of the man they wanted dead. "Saddam Hussein" - a name new to me. As a good reporter, I asked them to spell it. A Kurd from northern Iraq, then a University of Utah student, told me more about Saddam's chemical attacks against his own people.
Time skips three years to the halls of Congress - the home of decorum, of order and of civility. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, with a fresh haircut and a crisp suit says in quiet, firm tones that Saddam Hussein - a name now most familiar - must be "physically removed."
At another moment in the same halls, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, with an astronaut pin on his suit lapel, stares at a reporter with his intense blue eyes and says the same thing - only in less urbane language - "Saddam Hussein must be killed."
That seemed proper, and even necessary to preserve civilization - which archaeologists say was born in ancient Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But Garn's statement is eerie somehow. I then realize he uttered the exact words as the Arabs protesters years earlier, "Saddam Hussein must be killed."
Why did those words seem bizarre and brutal years ago, and not now? Why didn't we listen then? Could Saddam's aggression against Kuwait, its oil and the world's economy have been stopped without a war if we had listened and acted strongly then? The Kurdish student I talked to years ago may have given me the answers.
"You do not know this man. He is the devil," he said. Three years ago, much of the Western world indeed did not know Saddam. That came only after he threatened the West's economy by invading Kuwait, and stories of rape, hangings and stealing incubators from babies finally found the media spotlight.
In fact three years ago, many in America cheered for Saddam's Iraq in its war against the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, which had taken U.S. hostages back in 1980. We felt, as the Arabs say, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
The Kurdish student also told me he could not believe the world had not protested Saddam's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, who were citizens of his country although rebellious against his authority.
"Imagine the screams if this happened in Paris, London or New York," he said. But Saddam's action brought only minor diplomatic protests, no real economic sanctions. Not even a strong political slap on the wrist. Saddam was emboldened - as the world has seen.
Maybe like me, the world saw awful pictures of Saddam's chemical warfare - but simply cringed and turned away.
Maybe the world was not more enraged because of lack of understanding of the Arab world, or prejudice against it.
Whatever the reason, we didn't listen until Saddam threatened the vital interests of the United States. Had we listened and acted strongly, we may have prevented war.
Other strange cultures are warning us today similarly, the Chinese about the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Lithuanians about Soviet aggression.
We have to pick and choose our wars carefully. But better cross-cultural concern and strong economic, diplomatic and political punishment of moral outrage - before it threatens our own vital interests - may save bloodshed later.